LINCOLN, NEB. — Historic flooding in mid-March means Nebraska corn and soybean farmers will face more complicated planting decisions beginning in mid-April because of wet fields. They could decide not to plant, decide to plant later in the year and deal with probable yield losses or decide to switch crops, perhaps moving to soybeans from corn.
President Donald Trump on March 21 declared that a major disaster exists in Nebraska and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in areas affected by a severe winter storm, straight-line winds and flooding beginning on March 9 and continuing.
“What we have here is practically every river in the state of Nebraska affected by this event,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau in Lincoln. “There have been records set on almost every river for new flood marks. So, no, this has never been seen before.”
The flooding, in the case of crops, mostly will affect corn and soybeans, he said. Little wheat is planted in the flood-affected areas.
“In most of the area we’re talking about here in Nebraska, you would have early planting normally beginning about mid-April through mid-May,” he said of corn and soybeans. “That 30-day period would be the heart of planting season.”
Fields may not be dry enough for planting during that period. Mr. Nelson said farmers could wait until early June to plant corn or wait until July to plant soybeans. Yield reductions, however, would be “considerable.”
“If planting gets delayed, there’s a later window to plant soybeans,” Mr. Nelson said. “So there could be a shift from corn to soybeans. That would be just conjecture at this point.”
Preliminary estimates from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Lincoln, set crop losses at $440 million and livestock losses at $400 million.
“They are pretty rough estimates because it’s so early here,” Mr. Nelson said.
He said the estimates do not take into account property losses on farms and ranches, including machinery, buildings and grain bins.
“I know there are ethanol plants that are struggling to have enough corn to keep operating because farmers can’t get to their bins to haul corn or the roads aren’t passable,” he said. “There are a lot of effects to this (flooding) that probably are not quantified yet.”
Nebraska ranked third nationally in corn for grain production at 1,787,520,000 bus in 2018, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The state ranked first in beef and beef product exports at $1,264.7 million in 2017 and fifth in soybean exports at $1,352.5 million in 2017.
Flooding is affecting transportation, too. The Nebraska Department of Transportation, Lincoln, on March 21 said at least 15 bridges on the state highway system have washed out or were damaged. Mr. Nelson said Interstate 80 is open across Nebraska.
“There is an ability to move grain right now, but there would be certain areas where they would not be able to move the grain,” he said.
Both trucks and railroads are used to move grain in Nebraska, he said.
Impacted Union Pacific routes included railroad tracks located between Fremont and Grand Island, Neb., and Missouri Valley, Iowa. Other routes included rail lines located between Valley, Neb., and Lincoln, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Kansas City, Kas.
Record flooding in portions of South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri was causing major disruptions to BNSF Railway service and operations in the region, said Amy Casas, director of corporate communications for BNSF Railway, Fort Worth, Texas, on March 19.
The causes for the flooding built up over weeks. First, heavy snowfall hit the state. Then heavy rain fell on frozen land, quickly making its way to rivers, Mr. Nelson said.
“I’ve heard stories where people have lived 50 or 75 years on a particular farm and had never seen water as high as it was in this case,” he said.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau has set up relief efforts to aid Nebraska farmers, ranchers and rural communities. An Agricultural Disaster Exchange online portal allows Nebraska Farm Bureau members to share information, including requests for assistance or offers to help. More information may be found here.